by Annie Rose Stathes
Published May 1, 2013
Teamworkis an important aspect of academia, and it can be miserable or transformative, depending upon the experience. For many students, the words “group project” creates feelings of dread. For others, it creates feelings of relief and excitement. The good news? There are certain steps, tips, and structures that can help you learn how to work well with others.
In a best-case scenario, working in a group exposes students to a range of ideas, helps them to develop their own ideas with the feedback of others, and enables them to contribute to a piece of collaborative academic work. Remember, collaboration breeds innovation. Plus, while face-to-face meetings can be difficult for groups in graduate school, there are a number of technologies that can make group projects easier.
Structures for Successful Teamwork
Working in a group usually means working with people from different backgrounds who have distinct academic and social beliefs, skills, and abilities. You will be better at certain endeavors than others, and other will excel beyond some of your capabilities. This diversity makes it incredibly important to create some consistent structures that support the process of collaboration.
- Introduce yourselves and spend some time getting to know each other. At minimum, discuss your interests, goals, and desires as they relate to graduate school and share some information about your personal life.
- Select a group leader. This person should be willing to delegate work, move meetings along at a reasonable pace, and spearhead conflict resolution. Keep in mind this leader is not the person responsible for doing the majority of the work or making sure other people do theirs.
- Make sure every member of the group has the same understanding of the assignment. Read through the assignment, ask questions of the professor, and discuss the assignment as a group. Make sure everything makes sense to each member of the group.
- As a group, identify the tasks that need to be completed in order to successfully finish the assignment. Make a list and divide the tasks into various categories (tasks that require research, group discussion, presentation design, etc.)
- Divide the tasks fairly and according to each group member’s preferences. Share tasks unanimously voted boring, tedious, or extraordinarily difficult. Prior to moving on from this step, ensure each group member is satisfied with his or her tasks and feels the division of labor is fair and reasonable.
- Establish reasonable deadlines and meeting dates that best accommodate each member’s schedule and workload. Schedule group meetings and deadlines for all tasks well in advance. Plan your time beginning with the due date of the assignment and work your way back to the current day. Don’t plan deadlines and meetings online—doing so will likely result in confusion, discrepancies, and missed deadlines and meetings.
- Plan time to meet on a regular basis as a group. Use group time to discuss your research, identify challenges, and designate tasks complete. Also use this time to practice your presentation or pull the final product together.
How to Work Well With Others: Tips and Ideas for Working Successfully as a Group
- Share your information with one another and treat the project as a group project. Even though you’ll likely be focused on your own tasks and research, take time to understand your teammate’s tasks and research. Teach one another something.
- Agree upon the quality of work expected of each group member. Remember not all students work in the same way or desire to produce the same quality of work. Establish guidelines and expectations setting a standard for quality of work and depth of effort.
- Don’t hesitate to give lazy group members the boot or to ask them to contribute equally. If you have group members who don’t complete their fair share of work, are regularly late completing tasks, or don’t attend group meetings, request they contribute more to the group. If they don’t, talk to your professor and make an appropriate decision about whether or not to keep this person in your group.
- Address issues as they arise. Don’t let problems fester over time.
- Recognize your group is a team, and as a team you (collectively) are responsible for delivering a solid product. Don’t allow group issues to prevent you from delivering a good project.
How to be a Great Group Member in Graduate School
- Be a leader. Imagine the success of the project fully depends on your contribution. Even if you’re not the official group leader, act like one. Take initiative, complete your tasks, support struggling members, and demonstrate your commitment to the project as a whole.
- Complete your work on time and with integrity. Meet your deadlines and provide your group members with high quality work. .Meet or exceed your group’s expectations.
- View the entire project as your own. Strive to understand each component of the project and support your team members’ efforts.
- Be polite and kind to your group members and treat each one with consideration and respect. Treat them as co-workers and friends, even if you don’t like them personally.
Become a Great Team Member in Graduate School
Whether you're pursuing a graduate degree in business, nursing, or engineering, you're going to have group projects. Developing the skills to work well within a team is an important talent required of both graduate students and working professionals, regardless of your field.
Focus on using academic group work experiences as an opportunity for additional personal development within the process of learning about the subject of the project. While the suggestions listed above may seem overly formal in an academic setting, taking the time to establish expected norms for the team is likely to improve the overall experience of working with your team as well as the quality of work produced.
Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado
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